From The Age
January 8, 2005Old fish market full of tales
Flinders Street was a noisy place as hawkers jostled to buy fish. Jewel Topsfield looks back at those days.
The fish market in Flinders Street was a fanciful 19th century palace with ornate turrets and copper spires that resembled witches' hats.
Built in 1890, the building covered 2.3 hectares near Spencer Street and hid part of the railway viaduct. The fish market also featured a huge clock tower that complemented Flinders Street Station to the east.
Dr Bruce Bennett, author of The Fish Markets of Melbourne, said the market operated from 1892 until 1959 and was a hive of activity between 4.30 and 8am.
Chinese hawkers hovered to buy fresh barracouta, crayfish, salmon, whiting and flathead as it arrived on boats that moored at Little Dock, on the other side of Spencer Street and the trains.
The hawkers would then peddle the fish on city street corners or trundle their carts through the suburbs.
"It was quite a colourful scene . . . a furiously noisy place for those hours," Dr Bennett said. "A lot of the fish came on the train and was trundled across Spencer Street on little trolley lines and pushed straight into the fish markets."
According to Andrew Brown-May's Melbourne Street Life, from 1911 business proprietors complained about fish hawkers at the corner of Flinders and Queen streets.
Many cited objectionable smells permeating their buildings, while others criticised the sale of bad fish, barrows swarming with flies, the hawkers' bad language and the refuse left on the road.
Dr Bennett said the Melbourne City Council had to replace the fish market and cool stores in 1958 because the site was needed for the Flinders Street overpass.
"Some people did not like the smell in the city and wanted the fish market moved out," he said. A new site was found in Footscray Road, West Melbourne.
Between 1958 and 1960, in what is now widely regarded as an act of vandalism, the fish market was demolished. All that's left are faded photographs and the wrought-iron gates, now at the entrance to Fawkner Cemetery.
The Flinders Street overpass, spanning King Street, was built in 1961 as part of the construction of Kings Way. It will be demolished before next year's Commonwealth Games.
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